Lucas Hollweg on simple grub

Philip Brocklehurst
by Philip Brocklehurst  |  29 July 2011  |   1 comment

Lucas Hollweg, weekly recipe columnist in the Sunday Times Style magazine, has recently published his first book - "Good Things to Eat". Philip Brocklehurst called round for supper and a chat.

Lucas Hollweg on simple grub

How did you become a chef/food lover?

I’ve loved food for as long as I can remember. All my childhood memories are about eating – the stuff my mum made, the things we ate on our family travels across Europe. It’s the way I navigate my way back through my life.

I realised a few years ago that cooking and eating were the things that really, truly made me happy in life. As for how I got to write about it, I’m just very lucky.

I’m not a chef. I used to be a journalist and commissioning editor at the Sunday Times. Then one day I was talking to my boss about the things I’d cooked one weekend. She thought it sounded good, so she asked me to write it up as a feature. It went down well with the readers and I started to write more recipes as a sideline. Five years later, I finally took the plunge and began writing about food full time. 

What are you up to at the moment and why did you decide to do it?

Apart from my column for The Sunday Times Style magazine, I’ve just published my first cookbook, “Good Things to Eat”. It’s all about simple grub that tastes good, the sort of stuff I like to cook and eat myself.

I didn’t set out to reinvent the culinary wheel – I just wanted to write a cookbook that people would actually cook from – though, that said, a lot of the recipes have a bit of a spin, even the quite classic ones. I wanted the recipes to be familiar enough that people would feel comfortable with them, but with enough new ideas for them to be inspiring. 

What are your favourite foods?

Oh God, that’s a really hard one. I love so many things. Can I say salt?

What are your favourite recipes?

So much of it depends on my mood and how much time I have. Some things are worth waiting for or making an effort over. But I’m also a sucker for simple combinations that add up to far more than the sum of their parts: some slices of ripe peach with mozzarella and olive oil, for instance, or a few bits of chicken thrown in the oven with fennel and lemon and a splash of wine. 

What inspires you when you’re cooking?

Often it’s memories: things I ate when I was a child, or on holiday, or even last month at a restaurant. I always think that travel broadens the stomach as well as the mind, and many of the things I cook are inspired by plates of grub I’ve eaten elsewhere. Most of it is broadly European, with a few North African and Middle Eastern flavours thrown in. I’ve been to various bits of Asia, but there are people far better qualified than me to tell people how to cook its food.

What’s the most important meal of the day?

I should probably say breakfast, but actually, I think it’s lunch. Or at least, it’s the most decadent meal of the day, and a bit of decadence is pretty important. Lingering over a decent boozy lunch feels somehow illicit.  

What’s it like in your kitchen?

My kitchen is hopelessly unfit for purpose: much too small, with not nearly enough storage or space. One end of my kitchen table is an overflow work surface; the other is where I sit and write at my food-splattered laptop. The road outside is the main route to a big London hospital, so there’s a steady flow of sirens. It’s like living in the title sequence of The Bill. 

What’s your favourite piece of kitchen equipment?

I have a battered little Le Creuset omelette pan that I use for far more than just omelettes. And there’s a Japanese Kin knife with a blade like a razor. 

If you were on a desert island, what would you eat/cook?

Probably either some sort of risotto – so versatile, and so comforting if you were deprived of human company - or just a really simple, buttery roast chicken with a puddle of its juices. I often make mayonnaise or aioli to go with roast chicken, even when it’s hot. It melts into the juices in the most deliciously rich way.

What’s the biggest food trend we should all take note of?

I’m all for food as pleasure – the joy of eating, the discovery of new things - but the biggest food trend is actually a rather more serious one. It’s food security – how we’re going to feed the planet in the coming decades. Compared with population growth and climate change and peak oil prices, the rise and fall of the whoopie pie somehow seems rather insignificant. 

What’s the latest over-hyped fad we should avoid?

Cupcakes. 

What’s your food philosophy/motto in a single sentence?

Simple, doable, yummy. 

What do you love most about cooking/food?

It makes me happy and I hope it makes the people who eat my food happy too. Cooking is a way to spread the love. I also find it rather relaxing.  

Do you ever use cookbooks – and whose?

I don’t really use them directly anymore, unless I’m doing something really exotic and outside my comfort zone, though I certainly read them. They’re often my book at bedtime.

I have some oddities, like early 19th century books of French bourgeois recipes, and there are so many food writers and cooks I love and admire: Simon Hopkinson, Jane Grigson, Elizabeth David, Fergus Henderson, Mark Hix and Keith Floyd to name but a few.

There are also some books that are really useful for reference: things like the Leith’s bibles and my old copy of Patisserie by Gaston LeNotre.  

Which suppliers/producers do you think stand out from the crowd?

I love everyone at Maltby Street. They’re a group of inspired wholesalers and importers who used to be at Borough Market and now open up their warehouses near Tower Bridge to the public on Saturday mornings: people like the Ham & Cheese Co, who do the best Parma ham and amazing charcuterie; the St John bakery; brilliant fruit and veg from Booths; great cheeses from Neal’s Yard, Mons and Borough Cheese; Polish sausage from Topolski; La Grotta’s fabulous ice creams; the Kernel Brewery’s delicious beers and Raef Hodgson’s fantastic Gergovie Wines. It’s a hub of passion and integrity. 

Also worth your attention:

Lucas Hollweg’s aubergine, courgette and basil gratin

Paul Merrett’s pumpkin risotto

Book - Good Things To Eat